Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Struck Down

Regular readers will have noticed there has been a lack of blog updates in the last couple of weeks. The reason for this is that I have been unexpectedly in hospital. There I was in work on a Friday lunchtime feeling perfectly normal and thinking about the weekend head when a searing pain developed right through my middle, all my colour drained away, I start sweating and my recently eaten lunch put in a reappearance. The pain was excruciating and I was really struggling to breathe. 30 minutes later and I was in hospital being connected up to all sorts of machines and having all kinds of needles and tubes stuck in me.

The diagnosis quickly came back as a severe acute pancreatitis, a very nasty and potentially life threatening condition. Not quite how I had planned to spend the weekend or the following two weeks! Anyway despite being extremely unwell, I am now making good process and was pleased to be sent home a couple of days ago. My brush with the grim reaper has bought home a couple of key points about life. Firstly you should really saviour and make the most of each and every day as you really never know what is lurking around the corner. It will certainly make me appreciate even more those special moments I share with wildlife. Secondly it really doesn't matter what you have in life because without your health you really do have nothing.

So please bare with me and I will returning to normal blogging activities once I have built some strength back up.

Obviously I didn't want to make a post without a couple of images, so here are a couple of Black-headed gulls that I took at the local marine lake in some late afternoon sun before I was 'struck down'.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Curlew Opportunity

As many of the regular readers of this blog will know, I like to keep a camera by my side as often as possible to take advantage of any wildlife photography opportunities that cross my path. One such chance event occurred recently as I was driving past one of the local fields which the winter flocks of Curlew like to use during high tide to feed and roost. I suppose I was fortunate to be passing at the right time and also that the sun briefly showed on an otherwise grey and overcast day. When I first found the flock they were busy feeding but too distant for photographs of individual birds.

On the scale of difficulty of approach, I would rank Curlew fairly high. If you are on foot then they will start walking rapidly in the opposite direction long before you have managed to get anywhere within photography range. However, they don't seem to associate a car with danger and so I used mine as a mobile hide. This was one of the rare occasions when some dog walkers actually helped me photograph the birds. Two appeared on the far side of the field and the immediate response of the birds was to start walking in the opposite direction but in this case it was towards me.
It is always a great feeling when your subject starts getting larger and larger in the viewfinder as not only do you know the photographs will improve with each step but also the fact that you get opportunity to observe the birds at close quarters.
Despite staying alert to the now distant dog walkers the birds continued to feed on earthworms. No earthworm within 10cms of the soil surface is safe from that long elegantly curved bill.
Still the birds came closer and were now completely filling the frame. You will notice that there is a large difference in bill length between the bird in the photograph above and the one below. If I am correct I believe the females generally have the longest bills.
The sun even managed to put in a brief appearance while the birds were at close range.
The brief 30 minute session ended as quickly as it had begun, firstly as the sun disappeared behind a dark mass of cloud that stretched to the horizon and secondly by a cyclist who passed on my side of the field and caused the flock to take flight and land in the middle of the field and out of camera. I always love these unexpected opportunities, regardless of how brief and they certainly brighten the day. Hopefully the year ahead will offer many more chance encounters but when and with which bird or mammal will have to remain a mystery until it takes place.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Nuthatches and nearly Stock Doves

Disaster struck recently when my main camera body developed an electric fault and died. So while its back at Canon being having various bits of electronics replaced, fortunately still just under warranty, I have had to revert to using my Canon 7D. The 7D is really the camera I reach for when I am struggling for reach and distance, given the advantages of its 1.6 crop sensor, and usually involves having a teleconvertor attached which tends to degrade image quality a little. So I am not particularly fair to this camera which can produce good images even though they tend to have more noise and lack the 'polish' of files coming out of a Canon 1D body.

With 7D in hand I recently headed out to some local woods with a view to photographing some Nuthatch and Stock Doves. This is one of my favourite woods as the rust coloured carpet of fallen beech leaves create some wonderful colours under low winter sunlight. However, lighting is always tricky and constantly changing in the rising early sun. An area that was bathed in beautiful light one moment can be plunged into dark shade 5 minutes later.

While waiting for the Nuthatches, which I could hear calling loudly above, a few other birds appeared in front of the camera and it seemed a shame to waste the good light. These included a lone Magpie, and inquisitive Robin.
Eventually the first Nuthatch appeared. They are not the easiest birds to photograph as they tend to appear from all directions, quickly grab any available food and fly off to hide it in one of their 'larders'.
These attractive little birds are incredibly agile and always busy as the scurry around tree trunks and fallen dead trees looking for food.
Usually when photographing birds coming into feed I tend to try and take photographs without the birds carrying food. However, a Nuthatch carrying a nut somehow seems appropriate. This birds showing a very typical inverted pose.
As I was photographing the Nuthatch I heard some fluttering and cooing high in the trees above as the first Stock Dove started to gather. I carried on with the Nuthatch.
I decided it was time to move in to position for the Stock Doves as they slowly made their way towards the lower branches and the ground. They are quite nervous birds so usually you have to wait for them to come to you. A few squirrels had gathered so I filled in the waiting time with a few photos while laying in amongst the leaf litter.
No sooner had the first Stock Dove just landed in front of me, when I heard a galloping of rustling leaves and panting breath behind me and a very large drooling dog appeared. Squirrels and Doves immediately scattered, with the birds never reappearing. This was slightly frustrating as this area of woodland is fenced off as a 'No dog Area'. I obviously blame the owners (as dogs obviously cannot read), and it never ceases to amaze me how oblivious some walkers become, particularly to wildlife photographers, when exercising their four legged friend.


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